Western Sahara looks forward to independence talks with Morocco

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Morocco’s readmission into the African Union, meanwhile, comes with the pre-condition that the country considers giving the Western Sahara autonomy.

The only African country not to belong to the AU, Morocco left its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity, in 1984 after the body recognised the independence of Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara.

Morocco submitted its bid to rejoin last year, reportedly in the hope that being inside the AU would bring it diplomatic gains against Western Sahara’s independence movement (the Polisario Front) and allow it to lobby against Western Sahara’s membership in the AU.

Moroccan troops went into Western Sahara after Spain withdrew in 1975 and had maintained that Western Sahara is part of its historic territory.

So how did that happen?

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  • 1975-76: Morocco annexes two-thirds of Western Sahara after colonial power Spain withdraws.
  • 1975-76: Polisario Front declares the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), with a government-in-exile in Algeria. Thousands of Sahrawi refugees flee to western Algeria to set up camps.
  • 1984: Morocco leaves the Organisation of African Unity (which later became the African Union) in protest at the SADR’s admission to the body.
  • 1991: UN-monitored ceasefire begins in Western Sahara, but the territory’s status remains undecided and ceasefire violations are reported. The following decade sees much wrangling over a proposed referendum on the future of the territory but the deadlock is not broken.
  • March 2016: Morocco threatens to pull its soldiers out of UN global peacekeeping missions in Western Sahara, after UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon uses the term “occupation” when referring to the territory.
  • May 2016: Long-time Polisario Front leader Mohamed Abdelaziz dies aged 68

In March, Morocco threatened to pull its soldiers out of UN global peacekeeping missions because of the dispute. Now, the Moroccan authorities seem to have concluded their absence hasn’t helped them diplomatically over Western Sahara and many other issues.

After an emotional and tense debate however, member states decided by consensus to leave the question of the disputed territory of Western Sahara for another day, and resolve it with Morocco “back in the family.”

Delegates from the region have welcomed the move, and say they hope fruitful negotiations will take place.

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